Reactions: Overcoming Patterns

This is part of a new blog series called Reactions. I’m always reading something or listening to a podcast that provides information I find relevant to my life. I share them all with my sister who I know doesn’t have time to listen to all this stuff, so maybe at least one person or more might be interested if I blog about it. In these, I’ll profile an article, podcast, quote or an experience, give you the resource link if possible and briefly describe my reaction to it. I hope you enjoy!


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The podcast Invisibilia‘s recent episode called The Pattern Problem got me to thinking about how people change their lives. In my last blog I referenced the article about the alcoholic who drank herself slowly to death and no one intervened. She was never compelled to change her pattern. And, to be honest, changing a pattern in human habits is really, really difficult.

In The Pattern Problem, a man tries to upload data about humans to predict their behavior. He thought surely there is a pattern that could be fed into a computer program that could tell us what factors have the greatest influence on people’s lives and their patterns. After all, we all fall into patterns of behavior that are somewhat predictable.

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I’ve seen the patterns in my life. I know where they started in most cases, and I see them when they show up. Sometimes I fall in line with my pattern, and other times I choose to acknowledge the draw to the old behavior and do something different. “I know how that movie ends,” I like to say when I’m attracted to a bad boy bent on destroying himself. “I know how that movie ends,” I whisper when a pint of premium ice cream starts calling out to me from the grocery store shelf. The choice is mine. The pattern is really beyond my control.

I know lots of people who have dramatically changed their lives. People I know and love seem light-years away from the person they describe in their younger years. They were caught in a pattern of addiction that destroyed their lives. A jail cell or an ultimatum from a loved one or even the loss of everything they held dear jolted them into reality. Others had a more gradual transformation based on experiencing a little sobriety and realizing they desired something better for themselves. Whatever the reason, they broke out of their pattern with a lot of hard work and a strong commitment to changing it.

Patterns cement themselves in our bones because of hormones, muscle memory and brain circuitry. Our reactions are as predictable as my dog’s reaction to bacon. In order to break them, we have to create a new human experience that builds new circuitry. It is not easy to change a lifelong pattern nor is it common. It takes support, usually some kind of spiritual connection and a commitment that remains strong through many failures. It’s not about willpower. It’s about building a new pattern that is healthier than the one in place.

In the podcast, the computer crashed. It seems it isn’t easy to predict human behavior. I guess computers can’t upload the human spirit.

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